Deputy Will Ward

Dep. Will Ward

End of Watch Nov. 27, 1899

On November 27, 1899, Deputy Will Ward was escorting prisoner Bert Ross, via steamship, to San Quentin State Prison to begin a ten year term for burglary. Deputy Ward and Ross shared a room aboard ship. Ross was handcuffed and wore leg irons.

During a port stop in Santa Barbara, Deputy Ward fell asleep while seated in a chair in the room he shared with Ross. Ross seized the opportunity and struck Deputy Ward in the head with a heavy water pitcher, inflicting a fatal injury. Ross took $20.00 from Deputy Ward’s pocket and the key necessary to remove his handcuffs. The key, however, would not unlock the shackles binding Ross’ legs. Ross made his way to the outside deck of the ship and jumped overboard, convinced that he could swim to shore despite his leg irons.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Nat Stewart was aboard ship with a prisoner he was escorting to San Quentin. As he stood on the deck, the Sheriff heard splashing in the water below and quickly saw Ross clinging to a pier piling, unable to maneuver. The weight of the leg irons was too great to allow the escaped prisoner to swim.

Bert Ross was tried and convicted in the County of Santa Barbara for the murder of Deputy Will Ward. He was sentenced to death and hanged in 1903.

A wife and daughter survived Deputy Ward.